Is there an opportunity for my new business? Are there qualified workers?
The Flint Hills eco-region is a diverse area of economic opportunities, from our rich rural ranching heritage and blessed natural resources, to our dynamic land-grant university metropolitan areas. The region has ready-access to various markets and over the past ten years has led the state metropolitan areas in job creation. It is the home to two scenic by-ways that bring tourists from around the world to see some of the last stands of our national treasure, the tallgrass prairie. Area businesses, clustered around the Animal Health Corridor, the imminent National Bio and Agro Defense facility and other leading-edge agricultural production systems are adding to strong manufacturing and public sector growth. Home to the U.S. Department of Defense's Fort Riley and Kansas State and Emporia State Universities, the region has a long history of public service and excellent educational and health-care resources. Add the excitement of major college athletics, the sounds of nationally-recognized festivals and symphonies and the beauty of the vast rolling plains, and you have an area rich in opportunities for your next frontier.
The seven counties of Chase, Geary, Lyon, Morris, Pottawatomie, Riley and Wabaunsee, in the Central Flint Hills, fall outside the boundaries of a Kansas Economic Development District, and as a result, fall outside many planning, funding and technical assistance opportunities provided by the Economic Development Administration. The Flint Hills Economic Development District (FHEDD) formation gives these seven counties the opportunity to envision a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for their future, which begins with a Steering Committee that will lead a broad public dialogue on the future of their economic well-being.
Goals for the Future
In order to capitalize on the region's strengths namely our natural resources, Fort Riley and a number of state universities among others; we also hope to strengthen the areas of tourism, agriculture and ranching. The following goals are aimed at capitalizing on our strengths and invigorate our areas of weakness:
- Education: Educate the people of the Flint Hills through local K-12, higher education, vocational/workforce training, military training, leadership training and intergenerational teaching.
- Entrepreneurship: Create and strengthen entrepreneurial systems through infrastructure and strategic density.
- Jobs: Create sustainable and compatible career opportunities in the Flint Hills.
- Tourism: Champion initiatives to raise awareness of the region while promoting a positive image of our culture around the world.
- Dialogue: Promote, coordinate, or maintain a dynamic dialogue to access governmental and developmental resources.
- New Models: Develop innovative business models, from co-ops to e-commerce, to allow businesses to thrive in their unique situation and create new resources and opportunities for growth.
- Market Local Products: Market and promote unique regional products locally and around the world.
- Youth: Energize and revitalize small towns through retention of youth.
- Information: Disseminate economic resource trend information throughout the region.
Achieving Our Goals
Our diverse and context sensitive list of strategies developed by our devoted planning staff and committed citizens will help the Flint Hills Region be a sustainable and prosperous place to live, work, play, do business and raise families.
Succession Training: Rural America faces a growing challenge, as population continues to decline and towns and economies shrink. Many of the businesses that came to be the cornerstone of many communities now face closure due to a failure to fine someone to continue to practice. KU's Red Tire succession planning and partnering system is one example of how succession training might be developed to help rural communities in the future.
Entrepreneurship K-12 Curriculum Modules: With just 12% of the American population in entrepreneurial activities and over 40% of the Flint Hills economy government related, the diversification of the Flint Hills economy could be the cornerstone of a healthy future economy. Teaching entrepreneurial skills is often left to the college years and yet, these skills can be taught throughout the learning years and through various formats. Developing learning modules that could forge these skills should be a centerpiece of educational programming for the future.
Flint Hills Brand, Tall Grass, Tall Tales and Tall Tall Expectations: Flint Hills Tallgrass fed beef could be just one sub-brand of an umbrella Flint Hills Brand that places the Flint Hills on the geographic map of American tourism, industry and culture.
Flint Hills Regional Workforce Investment Board: In areas of the country, such as Southwest Alabama and North Carolina, leaders are bringing together leaders in workforce, education, industry and public policy to coordinate educational training and workforce support and development. These private sector led Investment Boards are integral to building a resilient workforce in these dynamic times. The Flint Hills has the Manhattan Workforce Advisory Board, which could serve as the kernal for developing a broader board that supports policy decisions for the seven county region.
Asset Mapping of Regional resources to fuel Regional Hub: The FHRC currently supports planning for a five-county region immediately surrounding Fort Riley. The FHRC is currently working to coordinate GIS modeling of this region, yet, the Frontiers project has brought new networking opportunities to the table, which, if coordinated to the Regional Hub, could provide a centralized place for mapping regional assets, from heritage and tourism to industry and leadership.
Flint Hills Regional Site Selection Tool: The Flint Hills Economic Development District Formation is nearing completion and the seven county district is coordinating a regional site selection tool that will allow industry professionals to have a one stop shop for available industrial and commercial sites.
Regional Hub for Events for Tours, Products and Stories:As part of a regional branding effort and in effort to link communities across this 19 county region a central information organizing systems, like Pinterest, should be initiated by central regional entity, such as the FHRC. With online training modules coordinated with regional partners, this could be a quickly built solution driven information source for the entire region, driving business, tourism and stories.
One Flint Hills Internal Branding and Marketing Strategy: When Kansas State University set out on its ambitious K-State 2025 Visionary Plan to become a top 50 public research institute by 2025, it began the process by instituting a 'One K-State' vision where each department or university related entity began to see and define itself first, and foremost, as part of the K-State team striving for common goals, with common values, to reach a common vision. 'One Flint Hills' could be the same visionary approach that utilizes the vision of the Frontiers project that reaches to hospitality training programs and brand identity certification programs. Kansas and state and regional partners should develop Scenic Bike-Ways, Trike-Ways and Hike-Ways that respect private property rights through an Adventures Pledge (educational program), while encouraging people to experience the tallgrass.
Flint Hills Success Leadership Training Collaboration Between Extension, Commerce and FHRC: The Kansas Leadership Center supports a wide variety of innovative leadership training for civic leaders across Kansas, yet none to our recollection are focused directly on rural leadership in a changing economy. With the Kansas Cooperative Extension Service and Department of Commerce, a series of 'Flint Hills Success' economic development learning modules could help rural communities see best practices, innovative programs and build 'Success through Tourism', 'Success through Entrepreneurship' and the 'Infrastructure of Success'. An information and training system could act as a certification program, that is coordinated with the PRIDE communities program and leverage state support for communities that become certified.
Leverage Kansas, Kansas State University Grads Receive Matching Loans for Start Ups through Alumni Angel Funds: Kansas State University, the nation's oldest Land Grant University, has a rich rural heritage. Much of that heritage is in jeopardy and much of it is due to trends many feel beyond their control: shifting demographics, changing agricultural systems, and global economics. Yet a good foot hold could be gained through stemming the tide of rural wealth transfer by giving a small portion back to those rural communities that gave so much to Kansas. KSU and Extension could partner with the Kansas Community Foundation's 'Keep five in Kansas' program to develop a High Five Program, that keeps five percent of estates funding rural communities.
Kansas Fiber: If we truly want to save small rural communities, couldn't we give small Kansas communities one mile of free broadband fiber optic cable through the Central Business District, or every Kansas Main Street? The future of rural America may actually be more dependent on access to the information super highway than any other transportation system.